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The Pilina Between Hawaiʻi and Great Britain: Ka Hae Hawaiʻi & Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea

When we work with haumāna from the continent, we frequently get asked about the union jack that is represented on the hae Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian flag). The hae Hawaiʻi historically ties into tomorrow’s national holiday Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea (Hawaiian Sovereignty Day), which commemorates yearly on July 31, the restoration of Hawaiʻi as a sovereign nation, from whom it was wrongfully occupied by the rogue actions of British Admiral George Paulet. Before we get into that moʻolelo, let’s take a look at the historical pilina or relationship between the Hawaiʻi and Great Britain.

In 1778, British navigator, and Captain of the Royal Navy, James Cook, sailed upon the islands, making contact to Hawaiʻi, for the first time by any western foreigner. Eventually landing on the shores of Kealakekua Bay on moku O Keawe or Hawaiʻi island - during the reign of King Kalaniopuʻu, who was chief of Hawaiʻi island and uncle to Paiea (Kamehameha I). Cook arrived during the Makahiki season, a peaceful time dedicated to the god Lono, and therefore; it is said that Cook was regarded as a God, and welcomed with open arms and gifts. Perhaps Cook took advantage of the special treatment he was receiving from the generous hospitality of the native Hawaiians.

After a month's stay, it was time for Cook and his men to return to the seas and continue their voyage. They got back on their ship known as the Resolution and left. Supposedly one week into the voyage, they turned back to Kealakekua, due to their ship’s foremast being damaged from extreme weather and ocean conditions. However, their return was not so welcomed this time around.

It was now no longer the season of Makahiki, and they were in the time of Kū, the war god. Tensions rose between the Europeans and the Hawaiians. As the conflict elevated, quarrels and fights broke out. Supposedly Cook tried to capture and hold King Kalaniopuʻu hostage, but before he could do so, he was surrounded by crowds of kānaka and killed there on the shores of Kealakekua Bay on February 14, 1779. That pilina turned sour, and the exposure and contact to western people brought diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis upon the Hawaiian people.

However, later down the road, relations between the British improved with the introduction of another explorer by the name of George Vancouver. This was during the era of Kamehameha I, and we have come to know that our mōʻī had a strong pilina with Captain George Vancouver, who was also a British officer of the Royal Navy. This pilina developed and soon King Kamehameha looked upon Great Britain as a trusted friend and ally.

Vancouver is well known for gifting cattle to Kamehameha and introducing the first livestock to the islands. In 1794 on Vancouverʻs final voyage to Hawaiʻi, he gifted Kamehameha the Red Ensign, a British flag that contains the union jack. Kamehameha cherished this gift and would fly it above his hale and sometimes take it into battle. After unifying the islands, Kamehameha decides to commission the hae hawaiʻi to be created to represent Ko Hawaiʻi Pae ʻĀina or the Hawaiian islands. George Beckley and Alexander Adams advised him in creating the unique hae Hawaiʻi.

The first documentation of the flag was recorded in 1816 by Russian Captain being flown in Honolulu Harbor, with the union jack and red, white, and blue stripes. Kamehameha had an endearment for Great Britain as an ally and protector. Ultimately, the hae was a symbol of unification and protection. Perhaps strategically, Kamehameha had the union jack placed on the flag to represent the pilina with Great Britain, a powerful country, with the strongest Naval force at the time. Kamehameha was a great King, warrior, diplomat, and strategist. After his death, Kamehameha’s sons continued this pilina with Great Britain.

Later in the lineage, Kamehameha III, Kauikeaouli, and three emissaries strived to get Hawaiʻi recognized as a sovereign nation. The emissaries traveled to great lengths for this mission and in 1842 America signed on and recognized Hawaiʻi as a sovereign nation. While the men were away, the Paulet Affair took place, which ultimately led to Kauikeaouli’s surrender to Great Britain.

There was a land dispute between Richard Charlton and the Hawaiian Government. Admiral Thomas heard the news of this and sent Lord George Paulet to see things over. Kauikeaouli turned down the commands of Paulet until Paulet threatened him with violence and military force.

From February to July 1843, Hawaiʻi was wrongfully occupied by Great Britain. During these troubling times, Paulet had all of the hae Hawaiʻi destroyed, causing despair for the kānaka maoli, who were left uncertain regarding the status of the mōʻī (monarchy).

Mixed messages were sent back to Admiral Thomas, so he decided to go to Hawaiʻi to investigate for himself. The wrongful actions against the Hawaiian Kingdom were finally resolved when Admiral Thomas arrived in Hawaiʻi and restored the ea, the sovereign authority to King Kamehameha III (Kauikeaouli).

A special ceremony took place at what is known today as Thomas Square, Honolulu on July 31, 1843. The British flag was lowered and the hae Hawaiʻi was raised once again. This day is known as Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, the day Hawaiʻis sovereignty was restored. Later King Kauikeaouli shares with the lāhui, this famous motto “Ua mau ke ea o ka ʻāina i ka pono” - The land is perpetuated in righteousness. Hawaiʻi was restored through the right actions of Admiral Thomas and monarchy Queen Victoria.

This holiday has been buried since the time of the overthrow in 1893 when Queen Liliʻuokalani was removed from the throne. No one heard of this holiday for a long time, but in more recent years, it has been revived, restored, and remembered. Today it is celebrated across the pae ʻāina and afar, as a day when the hae Hawaiʻi is risen to symbolize that the lāhui is still ever-present. Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea represents a very significant time in Hawaiʻi’s history and reminds us to always do the pono thing and that justice can prevail.

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